At the age of ten, Elizabeth Avila had spent her whole life in a comfortable home with a loving family. Then, one day, Elizabeth's world fell apart. Her father, Joe Avila, was driving drunk when he hit and killed a 17-year-old girl. Joe was later arrested at home and sentenced to twelve years in prison. "One of the hardest things was that we were such a close family," Elizabeth recalls in the book Six Million Angels. "Dad missed my cheerleading at games and competitions. And my first date. It was hardest around birthdays and holidays and especially Christmas." Her younger sister Grace remembers the same thing: "Christmas was very hard, because every Christmas we went to church together for a special dinner." But when Joe Avila, who had come to a personal relationship with Christ in prison, heard about Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree ministry, he found a way to help make sure his family's Christmas was joyful again. His daughters were thrilled when he signed them up to receive Christmas gifts from him through Angel Tree. But the gifts themselves, welcome as they were, weren't the best part. Elizabeth says, "We'd go to parties at the church, which was fun, but some of the best times were when somebody personally delivered the gifts. Not only would we see the love from our dad, but we'd see the love from someone we didn't know -- a complete stranger. I felt completely unforgotten." Elizabeth and her sister never forgot that feeling, and they decided they wanted to reach out to other children just as the Angel Tree volunteers had reached out to them. Although the family didn't have much money, the girls began buying gifts for other children who also had a parent in prison. This year, as another Christmas approaches, so many families of prisoners are feeling as if everyone has forgotten them. That's why our Angel Tree volunteers are demonstrating to these families that Christ remembers and cares for them. Through the work of Angel Tree -- which includes camping and mentoring programs, as well as the Christmas program -- many people encounter the love of God for the first time. The wonderful people who work with us are not just delivering Christmas presents -- they're being used to change lives. Elizabeth Avila knows that firsthand. Today, her dad is out of prison, and he's working as the director of Prison Fellowship's office in Fresno, California. A couple of years ago, as Elizabeth says in Six Million Angels, her family was up at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning delivering donated furniture, curtains, and food to a prisoner's family. Elizabeth and her sister Grace told the woman about their own experience, and then helped lead that woman to receive Christ. Out of the Avila family's terrible experience, a ministry was born that has blessed countless other families. This only happens through the Church. If your church would like to help prisoners' families experience the love of Christ this Christmas, please call us at 800-55-ANGEL, or visit our website at We'll help you register and send you all the materials you need to get started. Every child should be like Elizabeth: to feel "unforgotten." I hope you and your church will help make sure that happens. For further reading: Learn what you and your church can do to minister to inmates and their children this Christmas. Visit this page or call 1-800-55-ANGEL. You can donate online as well. Read about how one North Carolina church participated in Angel Tree. Charles Colson and Mark Earley, ed., Six Million Angels: Stories from 20 Years of Angel Tree's Ministry to the Children of Prisoners (Vine Books, 2003). BreakPoint Commentary No. 030925, "Touched by Six Million Angels: Stories of the Children of Prisoners." (Archived commentary; free registration required.)    


Chuck Colson


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